It seems like only yesterday that I was interviewing Times New Viking about their debut, Dig Yourself. In that time, though, the band has released two more albums and a single, been signed to indie stalwart Matador, and begun touring the world over as their collective star has risen in indie skies. Moreover, the Columbus threesome has done so without altering their aesthetic one iota, continuing to fashion a frenetic weaving of pop songmanship with noisy loose ends presented in sleeves designed by hand.
Following on their well received Matador debut, Rip It Off, Stay Awake is a quick ride on the band’s tilt-a-whirl. Comprised of five tracks, the EP is still no mere slapdash husbandry of more of the same, but shows the band moving forward while staying in the same sonic place. “Call & Respond” works a jackknife riff into the spaces between Beth Murphy’s sepulchral keyboard tones, the two coalescing in a give-and-take resonant of the song’s title. “Hate Hate Hate” is pure ingenuity, a motorik beat, mutant guitar riff and pop narrative squished into under-a-minute. “No Sympathy” is the real stunner here, though. Like two primary colors coming together, Adam Elliott and Murphy’s voices overlap symmetrically somewhere exiled in guyville, creating something that’s emotive and simultaneously completely detached. While “Pagan Eyes” is less impressive, the band finishes strong with “Sick & Tired,” a speedball-fed splicing of deconstructed anthems. That they do all this in less than 12 minutes is testament to TNV being at the forefront of the new vanguard.
MP3: “Call and Respond”
Before Money, Matt Mehlan was prone to attach a fantastical band name to whichever gang of musicians was responsible for that album’s surrealist periphery. On his latest release (and first for Tomlab), he’s suggesting he’s wholly embraced the name and let it stand on its own for good reason. Logistics aside, Money is frighteningly adhered to our current reality, yet no less a Bosch-ian orgy of sound-clash like Lucas and Git—epic in musical scope and hyper aware of the pulse in guilty pop. Through the usual unconventional means, Mehlan’s solidified Skeletons line-up have crafted a maniacal opera based around the evil necessity of the almighty dollar; the album is so wrapped in the theme, you often wish they’d launch into something juvenile just to shake the truth of what they profess.
Mehlan is a maximalist, always dealing in extremes, and each successive record finds him simultaneously close to vastly opposite poles. Continuously and nowhere more present than on the 11-minute centerpiece “Boom! (Money!),” the band reaches “Moon in June” expansiveness through their interpretation of free jazz, a velocity enhanced post-punk backbone ambushed by wayward horns and strings. A number of songs dive head-first into the same warped collusion of orchestral touchstones without warning or reasonable function. As with all Skeletons journeys, this is a strange world being created and function would only give them parameters to follow.
That said the operatic Money is not for the aurally unprepared. Mehlman knows this and more often than not allows his neon-pop leanings to rise to the surface, dressing chaos up in synths and mellowed, familial vocal yawns. “Stepper aka Work” is a infectiously fragile work framed by lilting strings and precious vibraphone, but wrapped in bubbling electronics and junkyard percussions, “The Masks” could be misinterpreted as quiet-storm rhythm and blues, and the sunshine finale of “Eleven (It’ll Rain)” cribs Tropicalia and mariachi without inert colonization. Still, as close as Skeletons come to crafting that insatiable Top 40 hit, they veer further into a challenging form few listeners will find comfort in , constructing a forcefield that allows them the freedom to make such stunning albums such as this.
Kevin J. Elliott
It may a cliche, but it can also be true: good things come to those who wait. While not in Guns N’ Roses territory, it’s been nine years since former Tribe Called Quest emcee Q-Tip released his sole solo record Amplified. Now after two presidents and on the verge of a third, the “abstract poetic” has released his long awaited follow-up The Renaissance.
It’s been a long road to The Renaissance. While Q-Tip has maintained a steady presence via guest appearances with a variety of artists, it seemed that a proper follow-up wasn’t in the cards. There were two records, Kamaal The Abstract and Open, that have been traded around the seedier parts of the internet but were deemed unsuitable for release for lacking “hits.” Which would mean that this record must be tailor made for radio play. Imagine Q-Tip AutoTuning it up with T-Pain, giving something for the ladies with Ne-Yo, or launching a new dance with Soulja Boy.
Happily it’s not the case. Q-Tip managed to get The Renaissance released with almost no nods to modern hip-hop radio at all. Maybe the execs were just worn out from saying “no” and decided to give it a chance. This may not be the record that longtime Q-Tip fans have been waiting for, but it’s the one that they want. It’s a change from older Q-Tip, and while not as jarring as trying to go from Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville to the self-titled record with no stops in-between, things are different. The opening track “Johnny Is Dead” sets up the new status quo with a 17-second intro of slightly distorted guitar sans drums and then moves into “rock” singing from Q-Tip. As an opener it seems kind of worrying, but it also kind of acts as a dare. If you can hang with that then Q-Tip will reward your faith.
In short order The Renaissance serves up more straight ahead hip-hop and introduces the live band sound Q-Tip was experimenting with on the Kamaal the Abstract record. But where that record felt amateurish, now it’s way more refined and integrated. The biggest strength of the album is just how well it’s put together. The tracks flow together like a DJ mixtape and the guest vocalists—Amanda Diva, Raphael Saadiq, long-lost soul-man D’Angelo and a jaw-dropping R&B vocal turn from Norah Jones—actually add to their tracks instead of being superfluous guest stars. The Renaissance was worth the wait. Now here’s hoping it won’t be another nine years.
Dorian S. Ham
There is one glaring difference between Wild Beasts and the current sea of young, well-clad, indie bands dominating record shelves: This gang of merrymakers has the talent to back up the image, and their unique style of whimsical art-rock is showcased beautifully on their debut full-length album, Limbo, Panto.
Wild Beasts released their first single, “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyant,” on Bad Sneakers Records in 2006. With the help of lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s grandiose falsetto, the band garnered the attention of UK’s independent radio stations, as well as their current record label, Domino. Almost two years have passed since the release of that first single, but Limbo, Panto proves worth the wait. The album is comprised of 10 songs that fluctuate between harmonious complexities and hapless, childlike melodies. Strange and unconventional, one thing this album is not: boring. No matter the song, the same feeling of fanciful joy permeates, and even the simplest ditties are brilliantly arranged.
Limbo, Panto is an album rooted in a mash-up of musical genres and time periods. Singing of the merriment of days of yore in a language equally playful and archaic (“Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy”, “Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye”), the album compounds the musical stylings of children’s lullabies and 1970s disco-mania with Marie Antoinette-like lavishness. Visions of regal ravers, dressed in royal ball-gowns waltzed through my mind once or twice whilst listening to tracks such as “The Club of Fathomless Love.” When Thorpe’s falsetto, which often descends into a pleading, gut-wrenching whine, verges on annoying, bassist Tom Flemming’s vocals provide a much-needed break (“The Devil’s Crayon”).
If your spirits are in need of a lift—and your ears can handle a heavy dose of operatic falsetto—then the beautifully strange odyssey that is Limbo, Panto is a just the elixir.